By Saj Sadiq
Given the versatility and potency of their bowling attack, Pakistan were expected to mount a strong challenge at the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, but three extraordinarily poor batting performances left the bowlers with nothing to defend. Pakistan bowed out of the league stage with three defeats in as many matches, their batting in complete disarray with the sole exception of captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
With the World Cup not too far away, Pakistan’s selectors must start making tough calls quickly if they are to avoid a repeat of the Champions Trophy debacle in future, says Inzamam-ul-Haq. In this extensive chat, the former skipper throws light on the benefits of nurturing young batsmen, using the way he was handled by Imran Khan in his early days in international cricket as an example.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion.net (PP): Three matches, three woeful batting performances and three defeats. Watching Pakistan at the Champions Trophy must have been a painful experience for you.
Inzamam-ul-Haq (IH): It was a huge disappointment and at times difficult to watch. The performances did not do justice to the players representing Pakistan at the tournament. I think a number of players performed well below expectation and some of them did not do justice to the Pakistan shirt during the tournament.
PP: Pakistan went into the tournament with high expectations. On reflection, do you think the expectations were too high and unrealistic?
IH: Looking at the bowling attack Pakistan took into the tournament, I think we were well within our rights to expect the team to do well. My inclination before the Champions Trophy was that if the batsmen could give the bowlers some half-decent scores of 220 or more, then the bowlers would do the rest.
However, the batting was in an absolute shambles and looked all at sea throughout the tournament. The batting line-up we had at the Champions Trophy is better than the totals made in England.
PP: Focusing on the batting for now, what do you think went wrong? What needs to be done to ensure such a disastrous performance is not repeated in a future high-profile tournament?
IH: There’s a lot of hard work ahead for some of the batsmen. Perhaps there is too much hard work for some and they will be incapable of reaching or maintaining the standards required to perform at the highest level. There seemed to be a total lack of confidence among the batsmen, which is very worrying. Usually, when you go into a tournament, one or two of your batsmen may not be in top form and you rely on the others to carry the weak links. But with Pakistan, it seemed to be a case of nearly every batsman being out of touch and struggling. In that situation, you are going to struggle to dig yourselves out of a hole.
PP: Do you think preparation for tournament was adequate?
IH: Looking at the batsmen, you would not believe they had been preparing for almost a month ahead of the tournament. The confidence was not evident and the self-belief wasn’t there either. The Pakistani batsmen looked as if they had been brought together a few days ahead of the tournament and given a bat for the first time.
PP: What are your thoughts on Trent Woodhill’s appointment as batting coach for a short spell during the Champions Trophy?
IH: No coach on this planet can perform miracles in the space of three weeks. I’m just puzzled at what the expectations were. Yes, everyone has a role and everyone has a part to play, but to expect miracles of Woodhill in the space of three weeks was just wishful thinking.
PP: Kamran Akmal’s performance with the bat was below par. Do you think it’s time to look at a different wicketkeeper-batsman?
IH: Kamran’s batting has been the reason for his selection over the years. He has at times made some vital scores, but I was baffled why he was batting down the order at the Champions Trophy. Kamran’s most effective performances in the shorter formats have been made when he was batting up the order. Those individuals that moved Akmal down the order have some questions to answer.
One day you are batting up the order and making runs and then suddenly you are moved down to the No 7 position. It was mystifying to me and cannot have been easy for Akmal either.
PP: Do you think Misbah-ul-Haq should have promoted himself up the batting order?
IH: No, I don’t think so. As far as I am aware, Misbah has never batted at No 3 in One-Day Internationals and I think he was right in batting at No 5. He was the form batsman and he held the batting together at No 5. If he had moved himself up the order, then the Pakistani batting would have been in even more trouble particularly if Misbah was back in the pavilion early in the innings.
PP: Were you satisfied with the work of the selection committee ahead of the Champions Trophy?
IH: No, I wasn’t satisfied with the squad selected. The squad that was picked had obvious flaws in balance and it lacked depth in the batting. We need to give youth a proper go. When I say a proper go, I mean a decent run in the team, not one or two matches and before they are dropped. Not one or two series and then they return to the wilderness of domestic cricket either. Give our younger players the vote of confidence and backing like I had with Imran Khan as skipper at the 1992 World Cup, and the youngsters will repay the faith shown in them. The time is right to bring in some new faces to the 50-over team.
Too often, youngsters in Pakistani cricket these days are either ignored or not given a proper chance. You don’t find out how good a player is by the way he carries drinks on and off the field. Throw young players into the deep end and see if they sink or swim. The selectors refused to inject youth into the Champions Trophy squad and the younger players that were taken weren’t really given much backing, which meant they were short on belief and confidence.
Umar Amin was brought in after the first match and was under pressure straightaway. Asad Shafiq was dropped after the first match and then brought back for the third game. These policies will do more harm than good to our batsmen. No young cricketer can perform in circumstances when they play one game, are subsequently dropped and then brought back the very next game. That policy is completely ludicrous.
What should have happened is that both Amin and Shafiq, who I rate very highly, should have been told that they will play all three games irrespective of how many runs they make. Had they been given this assurance ahead of the tournament, their confidence will have grown and I’m sure they would have performed much better. It’s crucial that young cricketers are given backing and shown support rather than left confused by ill thought out selection policies.
PP: Who is ultimately responsible for Pakistan’s poor showing at the Champions Trophy?
IH: I don’t think we should play the blame game at this time. Everyone needs to sit down, take stock of what happened and see what can be done to ensure that this does not happen again. Pointing the finger of blame will not help Pakistan cricket. There is a collective responsibility and all stakeholders need to look at what they could have done differently and learn from the experience.
PP: Would you agree that with the 2015 World Cup not far away, the selectors need to quickly make some important decisions?
IH: If the selectors do not make the right decisions and key decisions now, then the Pakistan team will be in the same position as they found themselves in during the Champions Trophy. What I mean by that is that if youngsters are not brought in now, they will see the same players struggling to perform at a major event. I would urge the selectors to act now before it’s too late.